September 19, 2021

Lebanon crisis deepens within weeks of new aid conference

Political deadlock, economic, financial and social crisis … In Lebanon, anger continues to mount, Friday July 16, against a ruling class accused of negligence and corruption. The country must find a successor to Saad Hariri, who on Thursday gave up forming a government in the face of Michel Aoun’s refusal to validate, once again, his new team. A new international conference in support of the Lebanese population, headed by France, is scheduled for August 4, just one year after the explosion in the port of Beirut.

Saad Hariri’s withdrawal, nine months after his appointment, comes in the midst of the economic crisis, described by the World Bank as one of the worst in history since 1850. In the throes of a dizzying surge in prices, a historic plunge in its currency and an unprecedented impoverishment of its population, Lebanon was already living in recent weeks at the rate of serious shortages, in particular of drugs and fuel, having catalyzed new demonstrations.

France, which oversees international efforts to end the crisis, announced the holding of a new international aid conference on August 4. This conference, supported by the UN, will be held exactly one year after the deadly explosion at the port of Beirut. It is ‘intended to meet the needs of the Lebanese whose situation is deteriorating every day,’ the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

‘Cynical self-destruction’

The Prime Minister-designate of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, on Thursday announced that he would renounce forming a government almost nine months after his appointment.

Saad Hariri was to put in place a team supposed to launch essential reforms in the country to unlock, in particular, crucial international aid.

After the announcement, protesters blocked streets near predominantly Sunni neighborhoods in Beirut, torching garbage cans and tires. Soldiers were deployed to try to disperse the crowd.

The renunciation of the Prime Minister designate in Lebanon is ‘one more dramatic episode in the inability of Lebanese officials to find a way out of the crisis (…) in relation to the economic and social reality’ of the country, had declared the day before. at the UN the head of French diplomacy, Jean-Yves Le Drian, evoking a ‘cynical self-destruction’.

‘There is an absolute urgency to get out of this organized and unacceptable obstruction,’ added the spokeswoman for the French Foreign Ministry in a statement released on Friday.

As for the European Union, it ‘deeply regrets’ the decision of Saad Hariri to recuse himself, declared Friday the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell.

Without government since August 2020

Lebanon has been without a government since the resignation in August 2020 of the government, which however remained in charge of current affairs.

In October of the same year, Saad Hariri was appointed prime minister, a year after his resignation under the pressure of a popular uprising. Before him, Moustapha Adib, named after the explosion at the port, had also failed in the face of resistance from the parties in power.

For several months, Saad Hariri and President Michel Aoun have accused each other of hindering the formation of a new government. Saad Hariri notably criticized the president for preventing the formation of a team of technocrats and for wanting to impose a ‘confessional and partisan’ distribution of portfolios. ‘If I had formed the government that Michel Aoun wanted (…) I would not have been able to lead the country,’ he said on Thursday.

Back to square one

Michel Aoun must now begin consultations to choose a head of government. The parties will then begin their traditional, often endless bargaining, to form a new cabinet, which must also be approved by the president and these same parties.

With this return to square one, several Lebanese media are warning of a possible extension of the government vacuum. ‘Lebanon, towards more danger’, could be read on Friday in the Annahar daily. ‘With Hariri’s challenge, a worsening of the crisis is inevitable,’ the French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour read for its part.

With ministerial posts and parliamentary seats distributed on a denominational basis, the resignation of Saad Hariri, considered the most representative of Sunni Muslims, risks further complicating the process. The name of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, also Sunni, is circulating in the media as a possible successor and it is ‘the most likely option’, according to the local daily Al-Akhbar.

Saad Hariri has, however, already said that his parliamentary bloc would not approve the appointment of Najib Mikati.

In the meantime, the Lebanese pound fell again on the black market on Friday against the greenback, exceeding 22,000 pounds to the dollar, against less than 20,000 pounds before Saad Hariri’s announcement. The official rate remains at 1,507 pounds to the dollar.

This new fall caused road blockages and demonstrations on Thursday evening.